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The Fortune Teller
We strolled into Bauerndorf’s town square. Shops and houses lined the sides of the plaza. Three garish vardos and a fourth covered wagon sat circled in the centre of the square. A wide platform stretched between the back of two of the vardos forming a stage. A dyed cotton curtain hung across the back of the stage. A caravan worker stringing strings of small lanterns in the low branches of a tree above the wagons spotted us and descended his ladder.
“Madam Rada is expecting you, folks.” He helped us up onto the stage and held back the curtain. “She’s in that wagon there.” He pointed to the third vardo and dropped the curtain behind us.
The tree the wagons circled around blocked out much of the afternoon sunlight. Ropes connected at the roof of every wagon supported bright sailcloth walls that tickled the cobblestone road. We stepped into a private world, unknown to us but standard to the travellers. A little girl smiled at us and tugged at her mother’s skirt. Phebes paused to wave at the girl. Wyanet descended into the camp. She marched to where we had been directed and threw open the door without knocking.
Sage, garlic, and peppermint-scented air billowed out of the wagon. A bag of garlic dangled above the bed at the front of the wagon, another spilled its contents on a small round table. An ancient human pulled herself from her bed. Her clothes favoured a long-dead and forgotten fashion. She walked at an angle with a knotty blackthorn cane.
The elderly woman eased herself into a chair beside the table. “Wyanet, sit down you damnably proud woman.” She quipped, her voice strong and quick. “You too Damian, we haven’t got time for games. Phebes…”
Phebes jumped and dropped the jar she had been inspecting. She juggled it twice and caught it.
“Try not to break anything.”
“Are you, Madam Rada?”
“Who else would I be, foolish boy?”
“How do you know our names?” Wyanet demanded.
“I know a great many things, Wyanet, avenging raven of the first people.”
“Why did you want to see us?” Phebes asked.
“A great danger plagues our homeland and all the people of Crescent Moon Bay.”
“You’ve got the wrong people, we aren’t heroes,” I interjected.
“Enough foolishness.” Rada chided. “Did you or did you not just risk your lives to free hundreds of slaves, and rescue a noble girl?”
“Yeah, but we got paid to do that.”
“Were you paid to free those people?”
“No, it just sort of happened.”
“Sounds pretty darn heroic to me, and I bet those people would agree.”
“I guess.” I surrendered.
“I think you’re a hero,” Phebes mumbled behind me.
“Calm yourself girl, we haven’t time for your hormones.” Rada continued. “In Crescent Moon bay something is slaughtering the adults. Many of the children there are now orphans, and starve to death on the streets.”
“That sounds like an issue for their own leaders to solve.” Wyanet snapped.
“There are more problems than that. The land is poison. Crops refuse to grow. The fish in the bay float to the surface of the water. Monsters roam the forest, and the sun rarely touches the ground.”
“What do you think we can do to help? We aren’t gods either.”
“Your group is destined for a fate greater than the sum of your collective abilities.” The wagon grew dark, a single candle flared to life on the table. The shadows behind Madam Rada took on a life of their own. “More are yet to join you.”
The shadows coalesced into the shape of a Minotaur with a great war hammer. The shadow figure roared a challenge.
“Some, you call family.”
The shadows shifted, the Minotaur transformed into a muscular giant manning a ship’s helm.
“Others, you will think to be an enemy.”
The giant collapsed into a sphere and expanded back out into the form of a dragon. A gout of shadow flame licked the ceiling.
“One will teach you the meaning of life.”
The dragon’s flames turned to storm clouds, and the dragon shifted into the shape of a naked man, dancing in the rain.
“Your friends will shatter your trust.”
A second shadow man with a sword as long as a lance formed out of shadows. He drove his sword into the chest of the dancing man and lifted him from the ground.
“Many will join you for a short time, and leave you again. Every one of them will be changed for having known you.”
The shadows turned into a tiefling, then shifted through many other forms. The never lingered on one form for more than a second.
“In your hour of greatest need, they will all stand beside you.”
The shifting shadow settled on the shape of a Faun, his horns rose several feet above his head. A grin split his face and he started laughing a silent laugh. A chuckle filled my head, but none of my companions laughed. The figure started to grow, consuming the entire space behind Madam Rada.
“Enough of this.” Wyanet blurted out. “How can we even trust you? Your kind is known for making up stories to frighten children.”
The candle extinguished itself. Light returned to the space. Madam Rada shook her head. “Wyanet, you poor, sweet, heartbroken girl.” She grasped Wyanet’s hand in hers. “The young man who broke your heart, was not of the same breed as my troupe. He and his company a little more than common tricksters. They prey on innocent people’s purses, and vanish before anyone knows what has happened.”
Wyanet yanked her hand away. “You are all the same.”
“We are not. My people seek the deep knowledge of the world, and we wish to share it with everyone we meet. The world is made of songs, and stories, it is our responsibility to share them. If people wish to pay us, that is their choice.”
“You blow into settlements, capture the hearts of the people who live there, then leave again when you get bored. Your people aren’t gentle summer winds like you pretend. You are Autumn storms. You destroy everything you touch.” Wyanet stormed out of the vardo.
Madam Rada turned to me. “Go after her young man. Remember what I have told you. I know you will all make the proper choice.”
I pushed back my chair and started for the door. Phebes at my heel.
“Phebes, if you don’t mind, I would like a moment more of your time. I have something to give you.”
Phebes gave me a nervous look. “I’ll meet you guys back at the tavern.”
“The angry woman went that way.” The little girl exclaimed as I exited the vardo.
“Thanks,” I mumbled and ducked through the torn sailcloth wall.
The story will continue, October 10th.
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Written by: Sweeney
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